Art Works Projects
Three years ago I first saw a photograph by former U.S. Marine Brian Steidle of Mihad Hamid, a beautiful one year old girl who had been shot in Darfur. At the time I had a very young child of my own and it suddenly became apparent to me that it was not acceptable to simply read about humanitarian crises, but rather that I had to try to do something about them.
In this spirit, Leslie Thomas, using her background in political science and design, created Art Works Projects. AWP currently has developed two projects that deal directly with the subjects of genocide and mass atrocities. The first initiative, the DARFUR/DARFUR photography exhibition, has already traveled to major cities around the globe. Photographs displaying the situation in Darfur are projected onto the sides of buildings in city centers. Passersby are surrounded by these images, the undeniable evidence that atrocities are taking place.
One of the first venues that hosted DARFUR/DARFUR was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where the Committee on Conscience was instrumental in helping the project grow and develop. Today more than 500,000 people have seen the projections. Partnerships with advocacy groups, humanitarian organizations and governmental bodies have developed as a result. DARFUR/DARFUR has recently been converted into a print exhibition and is continuing to tour worldwide.
AWP’s second initiative, Congo/Women: Portraits of War, focuses on the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the extreme gender violence that continues to plague the region. Work by famous photojournalists is printed on life-size fabric wall-hangings, and the unique effect is something between the immediacy of a photograph and the richness of a painting. These hangings are accompanied by essays that supply the viewer with the context of the crisis and captions that draw them through a storyline.
Both DARFUR/DARFUR and Congo/Women undertake as their chief objective the idea that people everywhere need to know about human rights abuses. By offering viewers striking images that take them to the center of the conflict at hand, Art Works Projects alerts the public to overlooked issues. In doing so, it achieves its mission to use art and design in support of human rights. The hope is that once they capture the public’s attention, audiences can take action to resolve the issues and prevent further abuses.